In a move that has many people in both the email marketing industry and the Internet security field shaking their heads, Yahoo has announced that any Yahoo email addresses that haven’t been logged onto in over twelve months will be made available to other users. In a post on their blog, Jay Rossiter, Yahoo’s senior vice president of platforms, wrote that the reason for doing this was to allow Yahoo users who weren’t online during the initial email address land grab to get the Yahoo addresses they wanted. “If you’re like me,” Rossiter explained, “you want a Yahoo ID that’s short, sweet, and memorable like albert@Yahoo.com instead of albert9330399@Yahoo.com”
Security experts are especially skeptical of this move, saying that the possibilities for identity theft abound. The recently deceased, or long-term hospitalized people could be prime targets, they argue. Elderly people whose kids set up their account and helped them buy a few things on Amazon two years ago are also possible targets. But the Email Marketing community has its own set of potential problem areas that must be dealt with if Yahoo goes through with this program.
30 Day Turnover
According to a Yahoo spokesperson once an old email address is requested, Yahoo will send bounce back emails alerting senders that the deactivated accounts no longer exist, and they will also unsubscribe these accounts from commercial emails such as newsletters, email alerts, etc. But Yahoo’s plan is to allow only thirty days for this process. This quick turnover only adds to the possible problems email marketers are liable to encounter.
Suppose you have a customer who purchased something from your company a year-and-a-half ago. You’ve been sending email offers, but as the person hasn’t been that engaged, you’ve tapered off on the mailings. You send something at the end of June, and then something again at the beginning of September. In between, that address has gone to someone else. How will that new recipient react? As far as they’re concerned, your email unsolicited, which makes it a good candidate for the Spam folder. This is, admittedly, worst case scenario, but a man named Murphy already proved that if something can go wrong, it will.
For an individual, sending to a bad address is no big deal. They will receive some kind of bounce message, but other mail they send will go through. That is not the same for mass marketers who send thousands of emails per day. When a marketer sends a large volume of email, the ISPs keep track of how many bad addresses are attempted and use that as a factor in determining the Reputation Score of the sender. This is explained in greater detail in our guides, but, suffice it to say, you can’t send to bad addresses regularly and maintain good inbox penetration. Good email marketing software looks at failure messages and immediately removes bad addresses from any future distributions to keep the failure rate as low as possible.
Beware of Spam Traps!
If you have removed inactive recipients from your list, you may have already removed some of the accounts that will be reactivated by Yahoo. One idea might be to reactivate all Yahoo users who were previously marked as bad addresses, in case some of them are now valid addresses. However, this would be a bad idea for many reasons. One is that some of those bad addresses have been turned into “spam traps.” This is an anti-spam technique used by all ISPs that takes old, inactive or closed accounts and reactivates them. Before the account is closed, the ISPs return an error message that the user is inactive to anyone trying to send to that address. After a period of time, the ISP will stop returning these message and turn the account into a spam trap. The idea is that good marketers send email to their recipients on a regular basis, so they will know that the account is no longer valid. Those that don’t follow best practices, or buy a list from questionable sources, may get email addresses that have not been sent to in many months. When an ISP receives an attempt to send to an address they have turned into a spam trap it results in an immediate and significant drop in the Reputation Score.
Even if there are no spam traps on your list, if most of those bad addresses remain bad, reactivating them will cause a large spike of unknown user rejections from Yahoo, which will also hurt your Reputation Score.
The problem isn’t simply limited to old addresses either. If you have a user who gets marked as invalid within the short window Yahoo provides, and, coincidentally, the new owner of that account wants to join your distribution, the new user may or may not get added, depending on how the request comes in. Many marketers re-import their list on a regular basis to add new recipients or change their demographics, so good email marketing software has to look at the import and see if the recipient is already in an unsubscribed or on-hold status. It would be a mistake to re-enable all recipients who are re-imported, as you would be causing another Unknown User request against the mail server, or re-activating a user who had unsubscribed. Therefore, if the new user’s request to be added comes into your website and is added to a bulk import, the request may be ignored.
If the request to add the email address is sent to the email marketing software in a non-batch mode, such as via an API call, it will depend on the implementation of the software as to whether the request is processed or not. Check with your ESP on how this would be handled.
Sending to a person who inherits an email address is probably a bad thing, and if that person marks your email as spam, it will be more difficult for you to get future mail delivered to Yahoo. Therefore, if you do not already have a program in place to remove inactive users, start one, or make sure that you send an email to all your users at least once a month. Above all, you’ll need to be especially vigilant when it comes to any clients using a Yahoo address.